Other People's Money
Part 5 out of 10
Better than any one else, Mlle. Gilberte must have been convinced
of her father's guilt. Had she not seen him humiliated and
trembling before M. de Thaller? Had she not heard him, as it were,
acknowledge the truth of the charge that was brought against him?
But at twenty hope never forsakes us, even in presence of facts.
And when she understood by M. de Tregars' silence that she was
"It's madness," she murmured, dropping her head:
"I feel it but too well. But the heart speaks louder than reason.
It is so cruel to be driven to despise one's father!"
She wiped the tears which filled her eyes, and, in a firmer voice,
"What happened is so incomprehensible!" she went on. "How can I help
imagining some one of those mysteries which time alone unravels.
For twenty-four hours we have been losing ourselves in idle
conjectures, and, always and fatally, we come to this conclusion,
that my father must be the victim of some mysterious intrigue.
"M. Chapelain, whom a loss of a hundred and sixty thousand francs
has not made particularly indulgent, is of that opinion."
"And so am I," exclaimed Marius.
"You see, then--"
But without allowing her to proceed and taking gently her hand,
"Let me tell you all," he interrupted, "and try with you to find
an issue to this horrible situation. Strange rumors are afloat
about M. Favoral. It is said that his austerity was but a mask,
his sordid economy a means of gaining confidence. It is affirmed
that in fact he abandoned himself to all sorts of disorders; that
he had, somewhere in Paris, an establishment, where he lavished the
money of which he was so sparing here. Is it so? The same thing
is said of all those in whose hands large fortunes have melted."
The young girl had become quite red.
"I believe that is true," she replied. "The commissary of police
stated so to us. He found among my father's papers receipted bills
for a number of costly articles, which could only have been intended
for a woman."
M. de Tregars looked perplexed.
"And does any one know who this woman is?" he asked.
"Whoever she may be, I admit that she may have cost M. Favoral
considerable sums. But can she have cost him twelve millions?"
"Precisely the remark which M. Chapelain made."
"And which every sensible man must also make. I know very well
that to conceal for years a considerable deficit is a costly
operation, requiring purchases and sales, the handling and shifting
of funds, all of which is ruinous in the extreme. But, on the other
hand, M. Favoral was making money, a great deal of money. He was
rich: he was supposed to be worth millions. Otherwise, Costeclar
would never have asked your hand."
"M. Chapelain pretends that at a certain time my father had at least
fifty thousand francs a year."
For two or three minutes M. de Tregars remained silent, reviewing
in his mind every imaginable eventuality, and then,
"But no matter," he resumed. "As soon as I heard this morning the
amount of the deficit, doubts came to my mind. And it is for that
reason, dear friend, that I was so anxious to see you and speak to
you. It would be necessary for me to know exactly what occurred
here last night."
Rapidly, but without omitting a single useful detail, Mlle. Gilberte
narrated the scenes of the previous night--the sudden appearance of
M. de Thaller, the arrival of the commissary of police, M. Favoral's
escape, thanks to Maxence's presence of mind. Every one of her
father's words had remained present to her mind; and it was almost
literally that she repeated his strange speeches to his indignant
friends, and his incoherent remarks at the moment of flight, when,
whilst acknowledging his fault, he said that he was not as guilty
as they thought; that, at any rate, he was not alone guilty; and
that he had been shamefully sacrificed. When she had finished,
"That's exactly what I thought," said M. de Tregars.
"M. Favoral accepted a role in one of those terrible financial
dramas which ruin a thousand poor dupes to the benefit of two or
three clever rascals. Your father wanted to be rich: he needed
money to carry on his intrigues. He allowed himself to be tempted.
But whilst he believed himself one of the managers, called upon to
divide the receipts, he was but a scene-shifter with a stated
salary. The moment of this denouement having come, his so-called
partners disappeared through a trap-door with the cash, leaving
him alone, as they say, to face the music."
"If that's the case," replied the young girl, "why didn't my father
"What was he to say?"
"Name his accomplices."
"And suppose he had no proofs of their complicity to offer? He was
the cashier of the Mutual Credit; and it is from his cash that the
millions are gone."
Mlle. Gilberte's conjectures had run far ahead of that sentence.
Looking straight at Marius,
"Then," she said, "you believe, as M. Chapelain does, that M. de
"Ah! M. Chapelain thinks--"
"That the manager of the Mutual Credit must have known the fact of
"And that he had his share of them?"
"A larger share than his cashier, yes."
A singular smile curled M. de Tregars' lips. "Quite possible," he
replied: "that's quite possible."
For the past few moments Mlle. Gilberte's embarrassment was quite
evident in her look. At last, overcoming her hesitation,
"Pardon me," said she, "I had imagined that M. de Thaller was one
of those men whom you wished to strike; and I had indulged in the
hope, that, whilst having justice done to your father, you were
thinking, perhaps, of avenging mine."
M. de Tregars stood up, as if moved by a spring. "Well, yes!" he
exclaimed. "Yes, you have correctly guessed. But how can we
obtain this double result? A single misstep at this moment might
lose all. Ah, if I only knew your father's real situation; if I
could only see him and speak to him! In one word he might, perhaps,
place in my hands a sure weapon,--the weapon that I have as yet
been unable to find."
"Unfortunately," replied Mlle. Gilberte with a gesture of despair,
"we are without news of my father; and he even refused to tell us
where he expected to take refuge."
"But he will write, perhaps. Besides, we might look for him,
quietly, so as not to excite the suspicions of the police; and if
your brother Maxence was only willing to help me--"
"Alas! I fear that Maxence may have other cares. He insisted upon
going out this morning, in spite of mother's request to the contrary."
But Marius stopped her, and, in the tone of a man who knows much
more than he is willing to say,--"Do not calumniate Maxence," he
said: "it is through him, perhaps, that we will receive the help
that we need."
Eleven o'clock struck. Mlle. Gilberte started.
"Dear me!" she exclaimed, "mother will be home directly."
M. de Tregars might as well have waited for her. Henceforth he had
nothing to conceal. Yet, after duly deliberating with the young
girl, they decided that he should withdraw, and that he would send
M. de Villegre to declare his intentions. He then left, and, five
minutes later, Mme. Favoral and M. Chapelain appeared.
The ex-attorney was furious; and he threw the package of bank-notes
upon the table with a movement of rage.
"In order to return them to M. de Thaller," he exclaimed, "it was at
least necessary to see him. But the gentleman is invisible; keeps
himself under lock and key, guarded by a perfect cloud of servants
Meantime, Mme. Favoral had approached her daughter.
"Your brother?" she asked in a whisper.
"He has not yet come home."
"Dear me!" sighed the poor mother: "at such a time he forsakes us,
and for whose sake?"
Mme. Favoral, usually so indulgent, was too severe this time; and
it was very unjustly that she accused her son. She forgot, and
what mother does not forget, that he was twenty-five years of age,
that he was a man, and that, outside of the family and of herself,
he must have his own interests and his passions, his affections and
his duties. Because he happened to leave the house for a few hours,
Maxence was surely not forsaking either his mother or his sister.
It was not without a severe internal struggle that he had made up
his mind to go out, and, as he was going down the steps,
"Poor mother," he thought. "I am sure I am making her very unhappy;
but how can I help it?"
This was the first time that he had been in the street since his
farther's disaster had been known; and the impression produced upon
him was painful in the extreme. Formerly, when he walked through
the Rue St. Gilles, that street where he was born, and where he used
to play as a boy, every one met him with a friendly nod or a familiar
smile. True he was then the son of a man rich and highly esteemed;
whereas this morning not a hand was extended, not a hat raised, on
his passage. People whispered among themselves, and pointed him
out with looks of hatred and irony. That was because he was now
the son of the dishonest cashier tracked by the police, of the man
whose crime brought disaster upon so many innocent parties.
Mortified and ashamed, Maxence was hurrying on, his head down, his
cheek burning, his throat parched, when, in front of a wine-shop,
"Halloo!" said a man; "that's the son. What cheek!"
And farther on, in front of the grocer's.
"I tell you what," said a woman in the midst of a group, "they still
have more than we have."
Then, for the first time, he understood with what crushing weight
his father's crime would weigh upon his whole life; and, whilst
going up the Rue Turenne:
"It's all over," he thought: "I can never get over it." And he
was thinking of changing his name, of emigrating to America, and
hiding himself in the deserts of the Far West, when, a little
farther on, he noticed a group of some thirty persons in front
of a newspaper-stand. The vender, a fat little man with a red
face and an impudent look, was crying in a hoarse voice,
"Here are the morning papers! The last editions! All about the
robbery of twelve millions by a poor cashier. Buy the morning
And, to stimulate the sale of his wares, he added all sorts of
jokes of his own invention, saying that the thief belonged to the
neighborhood; that it was quite flattering, etc.
The crowd laughed; and he went on,
"The cashier Favoral's robbery! twelve millions! Buy the paper,
and see how it's done."
And so the scandal was public, irreparable. Maxence was listening
a few steps off. He felt like going; but an imperative feeling,
stronger than his will, made him anxious to see what the papers said.
Suddenly he made up his mind, and, stepping up briskly, he threw
down three sous, seized a paper, and ran as if they had all known
"Not very polite, the gentleman," remarked two idlers whom he had
pushed a little roughly.
Quick as he had been, a shopkeeper of the Rue Turenne had had time
to recognize him.
"Why, that's the cashier's son!" he exclaimed. "Is it possible?"
"Why don't they arrest him?"
Half a dozen curious fellows, more eager than the rest, ran after
him to try and see his face. But he was already far off.
Leaning against a gas-lamp on the Boulevard, he unfolded the paper
he had just bought. He had no trouble looking for the article. In
the middle of the first page, in the most prominent position, he
read in large letters,
"At the moment of going to press, the greatest agitation prevails
among the stock-brokers and operators at the bourse generally,
owing to the news that one of our great banking establishments
has just been the victim of a theft of unusual magnitude.
"At about five o'clock in the afternoon, the manager of the
Mutual Credit Society, having need of some documents, went to
look for them in the office of the head cashier, who was then
absent. A memorandum forgotten on the table excited his
suspicions. Sending at once for a locksmith, he had all the
drawers broken open, and soon acquired the irrefutable evidence
that the Mutual Credit had been defrauded of sums, which, as far
as now known, amount to upwards of twelve millions.
"At once the police was notified; and M. Brosse, commissary of
police, duly provided with a warrant, called at the guilty
"That cashier, named Favoral,--we do not hesitate to name him,
since his name has already been made public,--had just sat down
to dinner with some friends. Warned, no one knows how, he
succeeded in escaping through a window into the yard of the
adjoining house, and up to this hour has succeeded in eluding
"It seems that these embezzlements had been going on for years,
but had been skillfully concealed by false entries.
"M. Favoral had managed to secure the esteem of all who knew him.
He led at home a more than modest existence. But that was only,
as it were, his official life. Elsewhere, and under another name,
he indulged in the most reckless expenses for the benefit of a
woman with whom he was madly in love.
"Who this woman is, is not yet exactly known.
"Some mention a very fascinating young actress, who performs at
a theatre not a hundred miles from the Rue Vivienne; others, a
lady of the financial high life, whose equipages, diamonds, and
dresses are justly famed.
"We might easily, in this respect, give particulars which would
astonish many people; for we know all; but, at the risk of
seeming less well informed than some others of our morning
contemporaries, we will observe a silence which our readers will
surely appreciate. We do not wish to add, by a premature
indiscretion, any thing to the grief of a family already so
cruelly stricken; for M. Favoral leaves behind him in the deepest
sorrow a wife and two children,--a son of twenty-five, employed
in a railroad office, and a daughter of twenty, remarkably
handsome, who, a few months ago, came very near marrying M.
Tears of rage obscured Maxence's sight whilst reading the last few
lines of this terrible article. To find himself thus held up to
public curiosity, though innocent, was more than he could bear.
And yet he was, perhaps, still more surprised than indignant. He
had just learned in that paper more than his father's most intimate
friends knew, more than he knew himself. Where had it got its
information? And what could be these other details which the writer
pretended to know, but did not wish to publish as yet? Maxence felt
like running to the office of the paper, fancying that they could
tell him there exactly where and under what name M. Favoral led that
existence of pleasure and luxury, and who the woman was to whom the
But in the mean time he had reached his hotel,--the Hotel des
Folies. After a moment of hesitation,
"Bash!" he thought, "I have the whole day to call at the office of
And he started in the corridor of the hotel, a corridor that was so
long, so dark, and so narrow, that it gave an idea of the shaft of
a mine, and that it was prudent, before entering it, to make sure
that no one was coming in the opposite direction. It was from the
neighboring theatre, des Folies-Nouvelles (now the Theatre Dejazet),
that the hotel had taken its name.
It consists of the rear building of a large old house, and has no
frontage on the Boulevard, where nothing betrays its existence,
except a lantern hung over a low and narrow door, between a cafe
and a confectionery-shop. It is one of those hotels, as there are
a good many in Paris, somewhat mysterious and suspicious, ill-kept,
and whose profits remain a mystery for simple-minded folks. Who
occupy the apartments of the first and second story? No one knows.
Never have the most curious of the neighbors discovered the face
of a tenant. And yet they are occupied; for often, in the
afternoon, a curtain is drawn aside, and a shadow is seen to move.
In the evening, lights are noticed within; and sometimes the sound
of a cracked old piano is heard.
Above the second story, the mystery ceases. All the upper rooms,
the price of which is relatively modest, are occupied by tenants
who may be seen and heard,--clerks like Maxence, shop-girls from
the neighborhood, a few restaurant-waiters, and sometimes some poor
devil of an actor or chorus-singer from the Theatre Dejazet, the
Circus, or the Chateau d'Eau. One of the great advantages of the
Hotel des Folies--and Mme. Fortin, the landlady, never failed to
point it out to the new tenants, an inestimable advantage, she
declared--was a back entrance on the Rue Beranger.
"And everybody knows," she concluded, "that there is no chance of
being caught, when one has the good luck of living in a house that
has two outlets."
When Maxence entered the office, a small, dark, and dirty room,
the proprietors, M. and Mme. Fortin were just finishing their
breakfast with an immense bowl of coffee of doubtful color, of
which an enormous red cat was taking a share.
"Ah, here is M. Favoral!" they exclaimed.
There was no mistaking their tone. They knew the catastrophe;
and the newspaper lying on the table showed how they had heard it.
"Some one called to see you last night," said Mme. Fortin, a large
fat woman, whose nose was always besmeared with snuff, and whose
honeyed voice made a marked contrast with her bird-of-prey look.
"A gentleman of about fifty, tall and thin, with a long overcoat,
coming down to his heels."
Maxence imagined, from this description, that he recognized his own
father. And yet it seemed impossible, after what had happened, that
he should dare to show himself on the Boulevard du Temple, where
everybody knew him, within a step of the Cafe Turc, of which he
was one of the oldest customers.
"At what o'clock was he here?" he inquired.
"I really can't tell," answered the landlady. "I was half asleep
at the time; but Fortin can tell us."
M. Fortin, who looked about twenty years younger than his wife, was
one of those small men, blonde, with scanty beard, a suspicious
glance, and uneasy smile, such as the Madame Fortins know how to
find, Heaven knows where.
"The confectioner had just put up his shutters," he replied:
"consequently, it must have been between eleven and a quarter-past
"And didn't he leave any word?" said Maxence.
"Nothing, except that he was very sorry not to find you in. And,
in fact, he did look quite annoyed. We asked him to leave his name;
but he said it wasn't worth while, and that he would call again."
At the glance which the landlady was throwing toward him from the
corner of her eyes, Maxence understood that she had on the subject
of that late visitor the same suspicion as himself.
And, as if she had intended to make it more apparent still,
"I ought, perhaps, to have given him your key," she said.
"And why so, pray?"
"Oh! I don't know, an idea of mine, that's all. Besides, Mlle.
Lucienne can probably tell you more about it; for she was there
when the gentleman came, and I even think that they exchanged a
few words in the yard."
Maxence, seeing that they were only seeking a pretext to question
him, took his key, and inquired,
"Is--Mlle. Lucienne at home?"
"Can't tell. She has been going and coming all the morning, and
I don't know whether she finally staid in or out. One thing is
sure, she waited for you last night until after twelve; and she
didn't like it much, I can tell you."
Maxence started up the steep stairs; and, as he reached the upper
stories, a woman's voice, fresh and beautifully toned, reached his
ears more and more distinctly.
She was singing a popular tune,--one of those songs which are
monthly put in circulation by the singing cafes--
"To hope! O charming word,
Which, during all life,
Husband and children and wife
Repeat in common accord!
When the moment of success
From us ever further slips,
'Tis Hope from its rosy lips
Whispers, To-morrow you will bless.
'Tis very nice to run,
But to have is better fun."
"She is in," murmured Maxence, breathing more freely.
Reaching the fourth story, he stopped before the door which faced
the stairs, and knocked lightly.
At once, the voice, which had just commenced another verse stopped
short, and inquired, "Who's there?"
"At this hour!" replied the voice with an ironical laugh. "That's
lucky. You have probably forgotten that we were to go to the
theatre last night, and start for St. Germain at seven o'clock
"Don't you know then?" Maxence began, as soon as he could put in a
"I know that you did not come home last night."
"Quite true. But when I have told you--"
"What? the lie you have imagined? Save yourself the trouble."
"Lucienne, I beg of you, open the door."
"Impossible, I am dressing. Go to your own room: as soon as I am
dressed, I'll join you."
And, to cut short all these explanations, she took up her song again:
"Hope, I've waited but too long
For thy manna divine!
I've drunk enough of thy wine,
And I know thy siren song:
Waiting for a lucky turn,
I have wasted my best days:
Take up thy magic-lantern
And elsewhere display its rays.
'Tis very nice to run,
But to have is better fun!"
It was on the opposite side of the landing that what Mme. Fortin
pompously called "Maxence's apartment" was situated.
It consisted of a sort of antechamber, almost as large as a
handkerchief (decorated by the Fortins with the name of dining-room),
a bedroom, and a closet called a dressing-room in the lease.
Nothing could be more gloomy than this lodging, in which the ragged
paper and soiled paint retained the traces of all the wanderers who
had occupied it since the opening of the Hotel des Folies. The
dislocated ceiling was scaling off in large pieces; the floor
seemed affected with the dry-rot; and the doors and windows were
so much warped and sprung, that it required an effort to close them.
The furniture was on a par with the rest.
"How everything does wear out!" sighed Mme. Fortin. "It isn't ten
years since I bought that furniture."
In point of fact it was over fifteen, and even then she had bought
it secondhanded, and almost unfit for use. The curtains retained
but a vague shade of their original color. The veneer was almost
entirely off the bedstead. Not a single lock was in order, whether
in the bureau or the secretary. The rug had become a nameless rag;
and the broken springs of the sofa, cutting through the threadbare
stuff, stood up threateningly like knife-blades.
The most sumptuous object was an enormous China stove, which
occupied almost one-half of the hall-dining-room. It could not be
used to make a fire; for it had no pipe. Nevertheless, Mme. Fortin
refused obstinately to take it out, under the pretext that it gave
such a comfortable appearance to the apartment. All this elegance
cost Maxence forty-five francs a month, and five francs for the
service; the whole payable in advance from the 1st to the 3d of
the month. If, on the 4th, a tenant came in without money, Mme.
Fortin squarely refused him his key, and invited him to seek
"I have been caught too often," she replied to those who tried to
obtain twenty-four hours' grace from her. "I wouldn't trust my
own father till the 5th, he who was a superior officer in Napoleon's
armies, and the very soul of honor."
It was chance alone which had brought Maxence, after the Commune,
to the Hotel des Folies; and he had not been there a week, before
he had fully made up his mind not to wear out Mme. Fortin's
furniture very long. He had even already found another and more
suitable lodging, when, about a year ago, a certain meeting on
the stairs had modified all his views, and lent a charm to his
apartment which he did not suspect.
As he was going out one morning to his office, he met on the very
landing a rather tall and very dark girl, who had just come
running up stairs. She passed before him like a flash, opened
the opposite door, and disappeared. But, rapid as the apparition
had been, it had left in Maxence's mind one of those impressions
which are never obliterated. He could not think of any thing
else the whole day; and after business-hours, instead of going to
dine in Rue St. Gilles, as usual, he sent a despatch to his mother
to tell her not to wait for him, and bravely went home.
But it was in vain, that, during the whole evening, he kept watch
behind his door, left slyly ajar: he did not get a glimpse of the
neighbor. Neither did she show herself on the next or the three
following days; and Maxence was beginning to despair, when at last,
on Sunday, as he was going down stairs, he met her again face to
face. He had thought her quite pretty at the first glance: this
time he was dazzled to that extent, that he remained for over a
minute, standing like a statue against the wall.
And certainly it was not her dress that helped setting off her
beauty. She wore a poor dress of black merino, a narrow collar,
and plain cuffs, and a bonnet of the utmost simplicity. She had
nevertheless an air of incomparable dignity, a grace that charmed,
and yet inspired respect, and the carriage of a queen. This was
on the 30th of July. As he was handing in his key, before leaving,
"My apartment suits me well enough," said Maxence to Mme. Fortin:
"I shall keep it. And here are fifty francs for the month of August."
And, while the landlady was making out a receipt,
"You never told me," he began with his most indifferent look, "that
I had a neighbor."
Mme. Fortin straightened herself up like an old warhorse that hears
the sound of the bugle.
"Yes, yes!" she said,--"Mademoiselle Lucienne."
"Lucienne," repeated Maxence: "that's a pretty name."
"Have you seen her?"
"I have just seen her. She's rather good looking."
The worthy landlady jumped on her chair. "Rather good looking!"
she interrupted. "You must be hard to please, my dear sir; for I,
who am a judge, I affirm that you might hunt Paris over for four
whole days without finding such a handsome girl. Rather good
looking! A girl who has hair that comes down to her knees, a
dazzling complexion, eyes as big as this, and teeth whiter than
that cat's. All right, my friend. You'll wear out more than one
pair of boots running after women before you catch one like her."
That was exactly Maxence's opinion; and yet with his coldest look,
"Has she been long your tenant, dear Mme. Fortin?" he asked.
"A little over a year. She was here during the siege; and just
then, as she could not pay her rent, I was, of course, going to
send her off; but she went straight to the commissary of police,
who came here, and forbade me to turn out either her or anybody
else. As if people were not masters in their own house!"
"That was perfectly absurd!" objected Maxence, who was determined
to gain the good graces of the landlady.
"Never heard of such a thing!" she went on. "Compel you to lodge
people free! Why not feed them too? In short, she remained so
long, that, after the Commune, she owed me a hundred and eighty
francs. Then she said, that, if I would let her stay, she would
pay me each month in advance, besides the rent, ten francs on the
old account. I agreed, and she has already paid up twenty francs."
"Poor girl!" said Maxence.
But Mme. Fortin shrugged her shoulders.
"Really," she replied, "I don't pity her much; for, if she only
wanted, in forty-eight hours I should be paid, and she would have
something else on her back besides that old black rag. I tell her
every day, 'In these days, my child, there is but one reliable
friend, which is better than all others, and which must be taken as
it comes, without making any faces if it is a little dirty: that's
money.' But all my preaching goes for nothing. I might as well
Maxence was listening with intense delight.
"In short, what does she do?" he asked.
"That's more than I know," replied Mme. Fortin. "The young lady
has not much to say. All I know is, that she leaves every morning
bright and early, and rarely gets home before eleven. On Sunday
she stays home, reading; and sometimes, in the evening, she goes
out, always alone, to some theatre or ball. Ah! she is an odd
one, I tell you!"
A lodger who came in interrupted the landlady; and Maxence walked
off dreaming how he could manage to make the acquaintance of his
pretty and eccentric neighbor.
Because he had once spent some hundreds of napoleons in the company
of young ladies with yellow chignons, Maxence fancied himself a man
of experience, and had but little faith in the virtue of a girl of
twenty, living alone in a hotel, and left sole mistress of her own
fancy. He began to watch for every occasion of meeting her; and,
towards the last of the month, he had got so far as to bow to her,
and to inquire after her health.
But, the first time he ventured to make love to her, she looked at
him head to foot, and turned her back upon him with so much contempt,
that he remained, his mouth wide open, perfectly stupefied.
"I am losing my time like a fool," he thought.
Great, then, was his surprise, when the following week, on a fine
afternoon, he saw Mlle. Lucienne leave her room, no longer clad in
her eternal black dress, but wearing a brilliant and extremely rich
toilet. With a beating heart he followed her.
In front of the Hotel des Folies stood a handsome carriage and
As soon as Mlle. Lucienne appeared, a footman opened respectfully
the carriage-door. She went in; and the horses started at a full
Maxence watched the carriage disappear in the distance, like a
child who sees the bird fly upon which he hoped to lay hands.
"Gone," he muttered, "gone!"
But, when he turned around, he found himself face to face with the
Fortins, man and wife; who were laughing a sinister laugh.
"What did I tell you?" exclaimed Mme. Fortin. "There she is,
started at last. Get up, horse! She'll do well, the child."
The magnificent equipage and elegant dress had already produced
quite an effect among the neighbors. The customers sitting in front
of the cafe were laughing among themselves. The confectioner and
his wife were casting indignant glances at the proprietors of the
Hotel des Folies.
"You see, M. Favoral," replied Mme. Fortin, "such a girl as that
was not made for our neighborhood. You must make up your mind to
it; you won't see much more of her on the Boulevard du Temple."
Without saying a word, Maxence ran to his room, the hot tears
streaming from his eyes. He felt ashamed of himself; for, after
all, what was this girl to him?
"She is gone!" he repeated to himself. "Well, good-by, let her go!"
But, despite all his efforts at philosophy, he felt an immense
sadness invading his heart: ill-defined regrets and spasms of anger
agitated him. He was thinking what a fool he had been to believe
in the grand airs of the young lady, and that, if he had had dresses
and horses to give her, she might not have received him so harshly.
At last he made up his mind to think no more of her,--one of those
fine resolutions which are always taken, and never kept; and in the
evening he left his room to go and dine in the Rue St. Gilles.
But, as was often his custom, he stopped at the cafe next door, and
called for a drink. He was mixing his absinthe when he saw the
carriage that had carried off Mlle. Lucienne in the morning returning
at a rapid gait, and stopping short in front of the hotel. Mlle.
Lucienne got out slowly, crossed the sidewalk, and entered the
narrow corridor. Almost immediately, the carriage turned around,
and drove off.
"What does it mean?" thought Maxence, who was actually forgetting
to swallow his absinthe.
He was losing himself in absurd conjectures, when, some fifteen
minutes later, he saw the girl coming out again. Already she had
taken off her elegant clothes, and resumed her cheap black dress.
She had a basket on her arm, and was going towards the Rue Chariot.
Without further reflections, Maxence rose suddenly, and started to
follow her, being very careful that she should not see him. After
walking for five or six minutes, she entered a shop, half-eating
house, and half wine-shop, in the window of which a large sign
could be read: "Ordinary at all hours for forty centimes. Hard
boiled eggs, and salad of the season."
Maxence, having crept up as close as he could, saw Mlle. Lucienne
take a tin box out of her basket, and have what is called an
"ordinaire" poured into it; that is, half a pint of soup, a piece
of beef as large as the fist, and a few vegetables. She then had
a small bottle half-filled with wine, paid, and walked out with
that same look of grave dignity which she always wore.
"Funny dinner," murmured Maxence, "for a woman who was spreading
herself just now in a ten-thousand-franc carriage."
From that moment she became the sole and only object of his thoughts.
A passion, which he no longer attempted to resist, was penetrating
like a subtle poison to the innermost depths of his being. He
thought himself happy, when, after watching for hours, he caught a
glimpse of this singular creature, who, after that extraordinary
expedition, seemed to have resumed her usual mode of life. Mme.
Fortin was dumfounded.
"She has been too exacting," she said to Maxence, "and the thing
has fallen through."
He made no answer. He felt a perfect horror for the honorable
landlady's insinuations; and yet he never ceased to repeat to
himself that he must be a great simpleton to have faith for a
moment in that young lady's virtue. What would he not have given
to be able to question her? But he dared not. Often he would
gather up his courage, and wait for her on the stairs; but, as
soon as she fixed upon him her great black eye, all the phrases
he had prepared took flight from his brain, his tongue clove to
his mouth, and he could barely succeed in stammering out a timid,
He felt so angry with himself, that he was almost on the point of
leaving the Hotel des Folies, when one evening:
"Well," said Mme. Fortin to him, "all is made up again, it seems.
The beautiful carriage called again to-day."
Maxence could have beaten her.
"What good would it do you," he replied, "if Lucienne were to turn
"It's always a pleasure," she grumbled, "to have one more woman to
torment the men. Those are the girls, you see, who avenge us poor
The sequel seemed at first to justify her worst previsions. Three
times during that week, Mlle. Lucienne rode out in grand style; but
as she always returned, and always resumed her eternal black woolen
"I can't make head or tail of it," thought Maxence. "But never mind,
I'll clear the matter up yet."
He applied, and obtained leave of absence; and from the very next
day he took up a position behind the window of the adjoining cafe.
On the first day he lost his time; but on the second day, at about
three o'clock, the famous equipage made its appearance; and, a few
moments later, Mlle. Lucienne took a seat in it. Her toilet was
richer, and more showy still, than the first time. Maxence jumped
into a cab.
"You see that carriage," he said to the coachman, "Wherever it
goes, you must follow it. I give ten francs extra pay."
"All right!" replied the driver, whipping up his horses.
And much need he had, too, of whipping them; for the carriage that
carried off Mlle. Lucienne started at full trot down the Boulevards,
to the Madeleine, then along the Rue Royale, and through the Place
de la Concorde, to the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, where the horses
were brought down to a walk. It was the end of September, and one
of those lovely autumnal days which are a last smile of the blue
sky and the last caress of the sun.
There were races in the Bois de Boulogne; and the equipages were
five and six abreast on the avenue. The side-alleys were crowded
with idlers. Maxence, from the inside of his cab, never lost sight
of Mlle. Lucienne.
She was evidently creating a sensation. The men stopped to look
at her with gaping admiration: the women leaned out of their
carriages to see her better.
"Where can she be going?" Maxence wondered.
She was going to the Bois; and soon her carriage joined the
interminable line of equipages which were following the grand drive
at a walk. It became easier now to follow on foot. Maxence sent
off his cab to wait for him at a particular spot, and took the
pedestrians' road, that follows the edge of the lakes. He had
not gone fifty steps, however, before he heard some one call him.
He turned around, and, within two lengths of his cane, saw M. Saint
Pavin and M. Costeclar. Maxence hardly knew M. Saint Pavin, whom
he had only seen two or three times in the Rue St. Gilles, and
execrated M. Costeclar. Still he advanced towards them.
Mlle. Lucienne's carriage was now caught in the file; and he was
sure of joining it whenever he thought proper.
"It is a miracle to see you here, my dear Maxence!" exclaimed M.
Costeclar, loud enough to attract the attention of several persons.
To occupy the attention of others, anyhow and at any cost, was M.
Costeclar's leading object in life. That was evident from the
style of his dress, the shape of his hat, the bright stripes of his
shirt, his ridiculous shirt-collar, his cuffs, his boots, his gloves,
his cane, every thing, in fact.
"If you see us on foot," he added, "it is because we wanted to walk
a little. The doctor's prescription, my dear. My carriage is
yonder, behind those trees. Do you recognize my dapple-grays?"
And he extended his cane in that direction, as if he were addressing
himself, not to Maxence alone, but to all those who were passing by.
"Very well, very well! everybody knows you have a carriage,"
interrupted M. Saint Pavin.
The editor of "The Financial Pilot" was the living contrast of his
companion. More slovenly still than M. Costeclar was careful of
his dress, he exhibited cynically a loose cravat rolled over a shirt
worn two or three days, a coat white with lint and plush, muddy
boots, though it had not rained for a week, and large red hands,
He was but the more proud; and he wore, cocked up to one side, a
hat that had not known a brush since the day it had left the hatter's.
"That fellow Costeclar," he went on, "he won't believe that there
are in France a number of people who live and die without ever
having owned a horse or a coupe; which is a fact, nevertheless.
Those fellows who were born with fifty or sixty thousand francs'
income in their baby-clothes are all alike."
The unpleasant intention was evident; but M. Costeclar was not the
man to get angry for such a trifle.
"You are in bad humor to-day, old fellow," he said. The editor of
"The Financial Pilot" made a threatening gesture.
"Well, yes," he answered, "I am in bad humor, like a man who for
ten years past has been beating the drum in front of your d--d
financial shops, and who does not pay expenses. Yes, for ten years
I have shouted myself hoarse for your benefit: 'Walk in, ladies and
gentlemen, and, for every twenty-cent-piece you deposit with us,
we will return you a five-franc-piece. Walk in, follow the crowd,
step up to the office: this is the time.' They go in. You receive
mountains of twenty-cent-pieces: you never return anything, neither
a five-franc-piece, nor even a centime. The trick is done, the
public is sold. You drive your own carriage; you suspend diamonds
to your mistress' ears; and I, the organizer of success, whose puffs
open the tightest closed pockets, and start up the old louis from
the bottom of the old woolen stocking,--I am driven to have my boots
half-soled. You stint me my existence; you kick as soon as I ask
you to pay for the big drums bursted in your behalf."
He spoke so loud, that three or four idlers had stopped. Without
being very shrewd, Maxence understood readily that he had happened
in the midst of an acrimonious discussion. Closely pressed, and
desirous of gaining time, M. Costeclar had called him in the hopes
of effecting a diversion.
Bowing, therefore, politely,
"Excuse me, gentlemen," he said: "I fear I have interrupted you."
But M. Costeclar detained him.
"Don't go," he declared; "you must come down and take a glass of
Madeira with us, down at the Cascade."
And, turning to the editor of "The Pilot":
"Come, now, shut up," he said: "you shall have what you want."
"Upon my word."
"I'd rather have two or three lines in black and white."
"I'll give them to you to-night."
"All right, then! Forward the big guns! Look out for next Sunday's
Peace being made, the gentlemen continued their walk in the most
friendly manner, M. Costeclar pointing out to Maxence all the
celebrities who were passing by them in their carriages.
He had just designated to his attention Mme. and Mlle. de Thaller,
accompanied by two gigantic footmen, when, suddenly interrupting
himself, and rising on tiptoe,
"Sacre bleu!" he exclaimed: "what a handsome woman!"
Without too much affectation, Maxence fell back a step or two. He
felt himself blushing to his very ears, and trembled lest his sudden
emotion were noticed, and he were questioned; for it was Mlle.
Lucienne who thus excited M. Costeclar's noisy enthusiasm. Once
already she had been around the lake; and she was continuing
her circular drive.
"Positively," approved the editor of "The Financial Pilot," "she is
somewhat better than the rest of those ladies we have just seen
M. Costeclar was on the point of pulling out what little hair he
"And I don't know her!" he went on. "A lovely woman rides in the
Bois, and I don't know who she is! That is ridiculous and
prodigious! Who can post us?"
A little ways off stood a group of gentlemen, who had also just left
their carriages, and were looking on this interminable procession of
equipages and this amazing display of toilets.
"They are friends of mine," said M. Costeclar: "let us join them."
They did so; and, after the usual greetings,
"Who is that?" inquired M. Costeclar,--"that dark person, whose
carriage follows Mme. de Thaller's?"
An old young man, with scanty hair, dyed beard, and a most impudent
smile, answered him,
"That's just what we are trying to find out. None of us have ever
"I must and shall find out," interrupted M. Costeclar. "I have a
very intelligent servant."
Already he was starting in the direction of the spot where his
carriage was waiting for him. The old beau stopped him.
"Don't bother yourself, my dear friend," he said. "I have also a
servant who is no fool; and he has had orders for over fifteen
The others burst out laughing.
"Distanced, Costeclar!" exclaimed M. Saint Pavin, who,
notwithstanding his slovenly dress and cynic manners, seemed
perfectly well received.
No one was now paying any attention to Maxence; and he slipped off
without the slightest care as to what M. Costeclar might think.
Reaching the spot where his cab awaited him,
"Which way, boss?" inquired the driver. Maxence hesitated. What
better had he to do than to go home? And yet . . .
"We'll wait for that same carriage," he answered; "and we'll follow
it on the return."
But he learned nothing further. Mlle. Lucienne drove straight to
the Boulevard du Temple, and, as before, immediately resumed her
eternal black dress; and Maxence saw her go to the little restaurant
for her modest dinner.
But he saw something else too.
Almost on the heels of the girl, a servant in livery entered the hotel
corridor, and only went off after remaining a full quarter of an hour
in busy conference with Mme. Fortin.
"It's all over," thought the poor fellow. "Lucienne will not be
much longer my neighbor."
He was mistaken. A month went by without bringing about any change.
As in the past, she went out early, came home late, and on Sundays
remained alone all day in her room. Once or twice a week, when the
weather was fine, the carriage came for her at about three o'clock,
and brought her home at nightfall. Maxence had exhausted all
conjectures, when one evening, it was the 31st of October, as he
was coming in to go to bed, he heard a loud sound of voices in the
office of the hotel. Led by an instinctive curiosity, he approached
on tiptoe, so as to see and hear every thing. The Fortins and Mlle.
Lucienne were having a great discussion.
"That's all nonsense," shrieked the worthy landlady; "and I mean
to be paid."
Mlle. Lucienne was quite calm.
"Well," she replied: "don't I pay you? Here are forty francs,
--thirty in advance for my room, and ten on the old account."
"I don't want your ten francs!"
"What do you want, then?"
"Ah,--the hundred and fifty francs which you owe me still."
The girl shrugged her shoulders.
"You forget our agreement," she uttered.
"Yes. After the Commune, it was understood that I would give you
ten francs a month on the old account; as long as I give them to
you, you have nothing to ask."
Crimson with rage, Mme. Fortin had risen from her seat.
"Formerly," she interrupted, "I presumed I had to deal with a poor
working-girl, an honest girl."
Mlle. Lucienne took no notice of the insult.
"I have not the amount you ask," she said coldly.
"Well, then," vociferated the other, "you must go and ask it of
those who pay for your carriages and your dresses."
Still impassible, the girl, instead of answering, stretched her
hand towards her key; but M. Fortin stopped her arm.
"No, no!" he said with a giggle. "People who don't pay their
hotel-bill sleep out, my darling."
Maxence, that very morning, had received his month's pay, and he
felt, as it were, his two hundred francs trembling in his pockets.
Yielding to a sudden inspiration, he threw open the office-door,
and, throwing down one hundred and fifty francs upon the table,
"Here is your money, wretch!" he exclaimed. And he withdrew at
Maxence had not spoken to Mlle. Lucienne for nearly a month. He
tried to persuade himself that she despised him because he was poor.
He kept watching for her, for he could not help it; but as much as
possible he avoided her.
"I shall be miserable," he thought, "the day when she does not come
home; and yet it would be the very best thing that could happen
Nevertheless, he spent all his time trying to find some explanations
for the conduct of this strange girl, who, beneath her woolen dress,
had the haughty manners of a great lady. Then he delighted to
imagine between her and himself some of those subjects of confidence,
some of those facilities which chance never fails to supply to
attentive passion, or some event which would enable him to emerge
from his obscurity, and to acquire some rights by virtue of some
great service rendered.
But never had he dared to hope for an occasion as propitious as the
one he had just seized. And yet, after he had returned to his room,
he hardly dared to congratulate himself upon the promptitude of his
decision. He knew too well Mlle. Lucienne's excessive pride and
"I should not be surprised if she were angry with me for what I've
done," he thought.
The evening being quite chilly, he had lighted a few sticks; and,
sitting by the fireside, he was waiting, his mind filled with vague
hopes. It seemed to him that his neighbor could not absolve herself
from coming to thank him; and he was listening intently to all the
noises of the house, starting at the sound of footsteps on the
stairs, and at the slamming of doors. Ten times, at least, he went
out on tiptoe to lean out of the window on the landing, to make sure
that there was no light in Mlle. Lucienne's room. At eleven o'clock
she had not yet come home; and he was deliberating whether he would
not start out in quest of information, when there was a knock at the
"Come in!" he cried, in a voice choked with emotion. Mlle. Lucienne
came in. She was somewhat paler than usual, but calm and perfectly
self-possessed. Having bowed without the slightest shade of
embarrassment, she laid upon the mantel-piece the thirty
five-franc-notes which Maxence had thrown down to the Fortins; and,
in her most natural tone,
"Here are your hundred and fifty francs, sir," she uttered. "I am
more grateful than I can express for your prompt kindness in lending
them to me; but I did not need them."
Maxence had risen from his seat, and was making every effort to
control his own feelings.
"Still," he began, "after what I heard--"
"Yes," she interrupted, "Mme. Fortin and her husband were trying to
frighten me. But they were losing their time. When, after the
Commune, I settled with them the manner in which I would discharge
my debt towards them, having a just estimate of their worth, I
made them write out and sign our agreement. Being in the right, I
could resist them, and was resisting them when you threw them those
hundred and fifty francs. Having laid hands upon them, they had the
pretension to keep them. That's what I could not suffer. Not being
able to recover them by main force, I went at once to the commissary
of police. He was luckily at his office. He is an honest man, who
already, once before, helped me out of a scrape. He listened to me
kindly, and was moved by my explanations. Notwithstanding the
lateness of the hour, he put on his overcoat, and came with me to
see our landlord. After compelling them to return me your money, he
signified to them to observe strictly our agreement, under penalty
of incurring his utmost severity."
Maxence was wonderstruck.
"How could you dare?" he said.
"Wasn't I in the right?"
"Oh, a thousand times yes! Still--"
"What? Should my right be less respected because I am but a woman?
And, because I have no one to protect me, am I outside the law, and
condemned in advance to suffer the iniquitous fancies of every
scoundrel? No, thank Heaven! Henceforth I shall feel easy. People
like the Fortins, who live off I know not what shameful traffic, have
too much to fear from the police to dare to molest me further."
The resentment of the insult could be read in her great black eyes;
and a bitter disgust contracted her lips.
"Besides," she added, "the commissary had no need of my explanations
to understand what abject inspirations the Fortins were following.
The wretches had in their pocket the wages of their infamy. In
refusing me my key, in throwing me out in the street at ten o'clock
at night, they hoped to drive me to seek the assistance of the base
coward who paid their odious treason. And we know the price which
men demand for the slightest service they render to a woman."
Maxence turned pale. The idea flashed upon his mind that it was to
him, perhaps, that these last words were addressed.
"Ah, I swear it!" he exclaimed, "it is without after-thought that
I tried to help you. You do not owe me any thanks even."
"I do not thank you any the less, though," she said gently, "and
from the bottom of my heart."
"It was so little!"
"Intention alone makes the value of a service, neighbor. And,
besides, do not say that a hundred and fifty francs are nothing to
you: perhaps you do not earn much more each month."
"I confess it," he said, blushing a little.
"You see, then? No, it was not to you that my words were addressed,
but to the man who has paid the Fortins. He was waiting on the
Boulevard, the result of the manoeuvre, which, they thought, was
about to place me at his mercy. He ran quickly to me when I went
out, and followed me all the way to the office of the commissary
of police, as he follows me everywhere for the past month, with his
sickening gallantries and his degrading propositions."
The eye flashing with anger,
"Ah, if I had known!" exclaimed Maxence. "If you had told me but
She smiled at his vehemence.
"What would you have done?" she said. "You cannot impart
intelligence to a fool, heart to a coward, or delicacy of feeling
to a boor."
"I could have chastised the miserable insulter."
She had a superb gesture of indifference.
"Bash!" she interrupted. "What are insults to me? I am so
accustomed to them, that they no longer have any effect upon me.
I am eighteen: I have neither family, relatives, friends, nor any
one in the world who even knows my existence; and I live by my
labor. Can't you see what must be the humiliations of each day?
Since I was eight years old, I have been earning the bread I eat,
the dress I wear, and the rent of the den where I sleep. Can you
understand what I have endured, to what ignominies I have been
exposed, what traps have been set for me, and how it has happened
to me sometimes to owe my safety to mere physical force? And yet
I do not complain, since through it all I have been able to retain
the respect of myself, and to remain virtuous in spite of all."
She was laughing a laugh that had something wild in it.
And, as Maxence was looking at her with immense surprise,
"That seems strange to you, doesn't it?" she resumed. "A girl of
eighteen, without a sou, free as air, very pretty, and yet virtuous
in the midst of Paris. Probably you don't believe it, or, if you
do, you just think, 'What on earth does she make by it?'
"And really you are right; for, after all, who cares, and who thinks
any the more of me, if I work sixteen hours a day to remain virtuous?
But it's a fancy of my own; and don't imagine for a moment that I am
deterred by any scruples, or by timidity, or ignorance. No, no!
I believe in nothing. I fear nothing; and I know as much as the
oldest libertines, the most vicious, and the most depraved. And I
don't say that I have not been tempted sometimes, when, coming home
from work, I'd see some of them coming out of the restaurants,
splendidly dressed, on their lover's arm, and getting into carriages
to go to the theatre. There were moments when I was cold and hungry,
and when, not knowing where to sleep, I wandered all night through
the streets like a lost dog. There were hours when I felt sick of
all this misery, and when I said to myself, that, since it was my
fate to end in the hospital, I might as well make the trip gayly.
But what! I should have had to traffic my person, to sell myself!"
She shuddered, and in a hoarse voice,
"I would rather die," she said.
It was difficult to reconcile words such as these with certain
circumstances of Mlle. Lucienne's existence,--her rides around the
lake, for instance, in that carriage that came for her two or three
times a week; her ever renewed costumes, each time more eccentric
and more showy. But Maxence was not thinking of that. What she
told him he accepted as absolutely true and indisputable. And he
felt penetrated with an almost religious admiration for this young
and beautiful girl, possessed of so much vivid energy, who alone,
through the hazards, the perils, and the temptations of Paris, had
succeeded in protecting and defending herself.
"And yet," he said, "without suspecting it, you had a friend near
She shuddered; and a pale smile flitted upon her lips. She knew
well enough what friendship means between a youth of twenty-five
and a girl of eighteen.
"A friend!" she murmured.
Maxence guessed her thought; and, in all the sincerity of his soul,
"Yes, a friend," he repeated, "a comrade, a brother." And thinking
to touch her, and gain her confidence,
"I could understand you," he added; "for I, too, have been very
But he was singularly mistaken. She looked at him with an astonished
air, and slowly,
"You unhappy!" she uttered,--"you who have a family, relations, a
mother who adores you, a sister." Less excited, Maxence might have
wondered how she had found this out, and would have concluded that
she must feel some interest in him, since she had doubtless taken
the trouble of getting information.
"Besides, you are a man," she went on; "and I do not understand how
a man can complain. Have you not the freedom, the strength, and the
right to undertake and to dare any thing? Isn't the world open to
your activity and to your ambition? Woman submits to her fate: man
This was hurting the dearest pretensions of Maxence, who seriously
thought that he had exhausted the rigors of adversity.
"There are circumstances," he began.
But she shrugged her shoulders gently, and, interrupting him,
"Do not insist," she said, "or else I might think that you lack
energy. What are you talking of circumstances? There are none
so adverse but that can be overcome. What would you like, then?
To be born with a hundred thousand francs a year, and have nothing
to do but to live according to your whim of each day, idle, satiated,
a burden upon yourself, useless, or offensive to others? Ah! If I
were a man, I would dream of another fate. I should like to start
from the Foundling Asylum, without a name, and by my will, my
intelligence, my daring, and my labor, make something and somebody
of myself. I would start from nothing, and become every thing!"
With flashing eyes and quivering nostrils, she drew herself up
proudly. But almost at once, dropping her head,
"The misfortune is," she added, "that I am but a woman; and you who
complain, if you only knew--"
She sat down, and with her elbow on the little table, her head
resting upon her hand, she remained lost in her meditations, her
eyes fixed, as if following through space all the phases of the
eighteen years of her life.
There is no energy but unbends at some given moment, no will but
has its hour of weakness; and, strong and energetic as was Mlle.
Lucienne, she had been deeply touched by Maxence's act. Had she,
then, found at last upon her path the companion of whom she had
often dreamed in the despairing hours of solitude and wretchedness?
After a few moments, she raised her head, and, looking into
Maxence's eyes with a gaze that made him quiver like the shock of
an electric battery,
"Doubtless," she said, in a tone of indifference somewhat forced,
"you think you have in me a strange neighbor. Well, as between
neighbors; it is well to know each other. Before you judge me,
The recommendation was useless. Maxence was listening with all
the powers of his attention.
"I was brought up," she began, "in a village of the neighborhood of
Paris,--in Louveciennes. My mother had put me out to nurse with
some honest gardeners, poor, and burdened with a large family.
After two months, hearing nothing of my mother, they wrote to
her: she made no answer. They then went to Paris, and called at
the address she had given them. She had just moved out; and no one
knew what had become of her. They could no longer, therefore,
expect a single sou for the cares they would bestow upon me. They
kept me, nevertheless, thinking that one child the more would not
make much difference. I know nothing of my parents, therefore,
except what I heard through these kind gardeners; and, as I was
still quite young when I had the misfortune to lose them, I have
but a very vague remembrance of what they told me. I remember very
well, however, that according to their statements, my mother was a
young working-woman of rare beauty, and that, very likely, she was
not my father's wife. If I was ever told the name of my mother or
my father, if I ever knew it, I have quite forgotten it. I had
myself no name. My adopted parents called me the Parisian. I was
happy, nevertheless, with these kind people, and treated exactly
like their own children. In winter, they sent me to school; in
summer, I helped weeding the garden. I drove a sheep or two along
the road, or else I went to gather violets and strawberries
through the woods.
"This was the happiest, indeed, the only happy time of my life,
towards which my thoughts may turn when I feel despair and
discouragement getting the better of me. Alas! I was but eight,
when, within the same week, the gardener and his wife were both
carried off by the same disease,--inflammation of the lungs.
"On a freezing December morning, in that house upon which the hand
of death had just fallen, we found ourselves, six children, the
oldest of whom was not eleven, crying with grief, fright, cold,
"Neither the gardener nor his wife had any relatives; and they
left nothing but a few wretched pieces of furniture, the sale of
which barely sufficed to pay the expenses of their funeral. The
two younger children were taken to an asylum: the others were taken
charge of by the neighbors.
"It was a laundress of Marly who took me. I was quite tall and
strong for my age. She made an apprentice of me. She was not
unkind by nature; but she was violent and brutal in the extreme.
She compelled me to do an excessive amount of work, and often of a
kind above my strength.
"Fifty times a day, I had to go from the river to the house,
carrying on my shoulders enormous bundles of wet napkins or sheets,
wring them, spread them out, and then run to Rueil to get the soiled
clothes from the customers. I did not complain (I was already too
proud to complain); but, if I was ordered to do something that seemed
to me too unjust, I refused obstinately to obey, and then I was
unmercifully beaten. In spite of all, I might, perhaps, have become
attached to the woman, had she not had the disgusting habit of
drinking. Every week regularly, on the day when she took the clothes
to Paris (it was on Wednesdays), she came home drunk. And then,
according as, with the fumes of the wine, anger or gayety rose to
her brain, there were atrocious scenes or obscene jests.
"When she was in that condition, she inspired me with horror. And
one Wednesday, as I showed my feelings too plainly, she struck me
so hard, that she broke my arm. I had been with her for twenty
months. The injury she had done me sobered her at once. She
became frightened, overpowered me with caresses, begging me to say
nothing to any one. I promised, and kept faithfully my word.
"But a physician had to be called in. There had been witnesses who
spoke. The story spread along the river, as far as Bougival and
Rueil. And one morning an officer of gendarmes called at the house;
and I don't exactly know what would have happened, if I had not
obstinately maintained that I had broken my arm in falling down
What surprised Maxence most was Mlle. Lucienne's simple and natural
tone. No emphasis, scarcely an appearance of emotion. One might
have thought it was somebody's else life that she was narrating.
Meantime she was going on,
"Thanks to my obstinate denials the woman was not disturbed. But
the truth was known; and her reputation, which was not good before,
became altogether bad. I became an object of interest. The very
same people who had seen me twenty times staggering painfully under
a load of wet clothes, which was terrible, began to pity me
prodigiously because I had had an arm broken, which was nothing.
"At last a number of our customers arranged to take me out of a
house, in which, they said, I must end by perishing under bad
"And, after many fruitless efforts, they discovered, at last, at
La Jonchere, an old Jewess lady, very rich, and a widow without
children, who consented to take charge of me.
"I hesitated at first to accept these offers; but noticing that the
laundress, since she had hurt me, had conceived a still greater
aversion for me, I made up my mind to leave her.
"It was on the day when I was introduced to my new mistress that I
first discovered I had no name. After examining me at length,
turning me around and around, making me walk, and sit down, 'Now,'
she inquired, 'what is your name?'
"I stared at her in surprise; for indeed I was then like a savage,
not having the slightest notions of the things of life.
"'My name is the Parisian,' I replied.
"She burst out laughing, as also another old lady, a friend of hers,
who assisted at my presentation; and I remember that my little pride
was quite offended at their hilarity. I thought they were laughing
"'That's not a name,' they said at last. 'That's a nickname.'
"'I have no other.'
"They seemed dumfounded, repeating over and over that such a thing
was unheard of; and on the spot they began to look for a name for me.
"'Where were you born?' inquired my new mistress.
"'Very well,' said the other: 'let us call her Louvecienne.'
"A long discussion followed, which irritated me so much that I felt
like running away; and it was agreed at last, that I should be
called, not Louvecienne, but Lucienne; and Lucienne I have remained.
"There was nothing said about baptism, since my new mistress was a
"She was an excellent woman, although the grief she had felt at the
loss of her husband had somewhat deranged her faculties.
"As soon as it was decided that I was to remain, she desired to
inspect my trousseau. I had none to show her, possessing nothing
in the world but the rags on my back. As long as I had remained
with the laundress, I had finished wearing out her old dresses; and
I had never worn any other under-clothing save that which I borrowed,
'by authority,' from the clients,--an economical system adopted by
"Dismayed at my state of destitution, my new mistress sent for a
seamstress, and at once ordered wherewith to dress and change me.
"Since the death of the poor gardeners, this was the first time that
any one paid any attention to me, except to exact some service of me.
I was moved to tears; and, in the excess of my gratitude, I would
gladly have died for that kind old lady.
"This feeling gave me the courage and the constancy required to bear
with her whimsical nature. She had singular manias, disconcerting
fancies, ridiculous and often exorbitant exactions. I lent myself
to it all as best I could.
"As she already had two servants, a cook and a chambermaid, I had
myself no special duties in the house. I accompanied her when she
went out riding. I helped to wait on her at table, and to dress her.
I picked up her handkerchief when she dropped it; and, above all, I
looked for her snuff-box, which she was continually mislaying.
"She was pleased with my docility, took much interest in me, and,
that I might read to her, she made me learn to read, for I hardly
knew my letters. And the old man whom she gave me for a teacher,
finding me intelligent, taught me all he knew, I imagine, of French,
of geography, and of history.
"The chambermaid, on the other hand, had been commissioned to teach
me to sew, to embroider, and to execute all sorts of fancy-work;
and she took the more interest in her lessons, that little by little
she shifted upon me the most tedious part of her work.
"I would have been happy in that pretty house at La Jonchere, if I
had only had some society better suited to my age than the old women
with whom I was compelled to live, and who scolded me for a loud
word or a somewhat abrupt gesture. What would I not have given to
have been allowed to play with the young girls whom I saw on Sundays
passing in crowds along the road!
"As time went on, my old mistress became more and more attached to
me, and endeavored in every way to give me proofs of her affection.
I sat at table with her, instead of waiting on her, as at first.
She had given me clothes, so that she could take me and introduce
"She went about repeating everywhere that she was as fond of me as
of a daughter; that she intended to set me up in life; and that
certainly she would leave a part of her fortune to me.
"Alas! She said it too loud, for my misfortune,--so loud, that
the news reached at last the ears of some nephews of hers in Paris,
who came once in a while to La Jonchere.
"They had never paid much attention to me up to this time. Those
speeches opened their eyes: they noticed what progress I had made
in the heart of their relative; and their cupidity became alarmed.
"Trembling lest they should lose an inheritance which they
considered as theirs, they united against me, determined to put a
stop to their aunt's generous intentions by having me sent off.
"But it was in vain, that, for nearly a year, their hatred exhausted
itself in skillful manoeuvres.
"The instinct of preservation stimulating my perspicacity I had
penetrated their intentions, and I was struggling with all my might.
Every day, to make myself more indispensable, I invented some novel
"They only came once a week to La Jonchere: I was there all the time.
I had the advantage. I struggled successfully, and was probably
approaching the end of my troubles, when my poor old mistress was
taken sick. After forty-eight hours, she was very low. She was
fully conscious, but for that very reason she could appreciate the
danger; and the fear of death made her crazy.
"Her nieces had come to sit by her bedside; and I was expressly
forbidden to enter the room. They had understood that this was an
excellent opportunity to get rid of me forever.
"Evidently gained in advance, the physicians declared to my poor
benefactress that the air of La Jonchere was fatal to her, and
that her only chance of recovery was to establish herself in Paris.
One of her nephews offered to have her taken to his house in a
litter. She would soon get well, they said; and she could then go
to finish her convalescence in some southern city.
"Her first word was for me. She did not wish to be separated from
me, she protested, and insisted absolutely upon taking me with her.
Her nephews represented gravely to her that this was an
impossibility; that she must not think of burdening herself with
me; that the simplest thing was to leave me at La Jonchere; and
that, moreover, they would see that I should get a good situation.
"The sick woman struggled for a long time, and with an energy of
which I would not have thought her capable.
"But the others were pressing. The physicians kept repeating that
they could not answer for any thing, if she did not follow their
advice. She was afraid of death. She yielded, weeping.
"The very next morning, a sort of litter, carried by eight men,
stopped in front of the door. My poor mistress was laid into it;
and they carried her off, without even permitting me to kiss her
for the last time.
"Two hours later, the cook and the chambermaid were dismissed. As
to myself, the nephew who had promised to look after me put a
twenty-franc-piece in my hand saying, 'Here are your eight days in
advance. Pack up your things immediately, and clear out!'"
It was impossible that Mlle. Lucienne should not be deeply moved
whilst thus stirring the ashes of her past. She showed no evidence
of it, however, except, now and then, a slight alteration in her
As to Maxence, he would vainly have tried to conceal the passionate
interest with which he was listening to these unexpected confidences.
"Have you, then, never seen your benefactress again?" he asked.
"Never," replied Mlle. Lucienne. "All my efforts to reach her have
proved fruitless. She does not live in Paris now. I have written
to her: my letters have remained without answer. Did she ever get
them? I think not. Something tells me that she has not forgotten
She remained silent for a few moments, as if collecting herself
before resuming the thread of her narrative. And then,
"It was thus brutally," she resumed, "that I was sent off. It
would have been useless to beg, I knew; and, moreover, I have never
known how to beg. I piled up hurriedly in two trunks and in some
bandboxes all I had in the world,--all I had received from the
generosity of my poor mistress; and, before the stated hour, I was
ready. The cook and the chambermaid had already gone. The man who
was treating me so cruelly was waiting for me. He helped me carry
out my boxes and trunks, after which he locked the door, put the
key in his pocket; and, as the American omnibus was passing, he
beckoned to it to stop. And then, before entering it,
"'Good luck, my pretty girl!' he said with a laugh.
"This was in the month of January, 1866. I was just thirteen. I
have had since more terrible trials, and I have found myself in much
more desperate situations: but I do not remember ever feeling such
intense discouragement as I did that day, when I found myself alone
upon that road, not knowing which way to go. I sat down on one of
my trunks. The weather was cold and gloomy: there were few persons
on the road. They looked at me, doubtless wondering what I was doing
there. I wept. I had a vague feeling that the well-meant kindness
of my poor benefactress, in bestowing upon me the blessings of
education, would in reality prove a serious impediment in the
life-struggle which I was about to begin again. I thought of what
I suffered with the laundress; and, at the idea of the tortures
which the future still held in store for me, I desired death. The
Seine was near: why not put an end at once to the miserable
existence which I foresaw?
"Such were my reflections, when a woman from Rueil, a
vegetable-vender, whom I knew by sight, happened to pass, pushing
her hand-cart before her over the muddy pavement. She stopped when
she saw me; and, in the softest voice she could command,
"'What are you doing there, my darling?' she asked.
"In a few words I explained to her my situation. She seemed more
surprised than moved.
"'Such is life,' she remarked,--'sometimes up, sometimes down.'
"And, stepping up nearer,
"'What do you expect to do now?' she interrogated in a tone of voice
so different from that in which she had spoken at first, that I felt
more keenly the horror of my altered situation.
"'I have no idea,' I replied.
"After thinking for a moment,
"'You can't stay there,' she resumed: 'the gendarmes would arrest
you. Come with me. We will talk things over at the house; and
I'll give you my advice.'
"I was so completely crushed, that I had neither strength nor will.
Besides, what was the use of thinking? Had I any choice of
resolutions? Finally, the woman's offer seemed to me a last favor
"'I shall do as you say, madame,' I replied.
"She proceeded at once to load up my little baggage on her cart.
We started; and soon we arrived 'home.'
"What she called thus was a sort of cellar, at least twelve inches
lower than the street, receiving its only light through the glass
door, in which several broken panes had been replaced by sheets of
paper. It was revoltingly filthy, and filled with a sickening odor.
On all sides were heaps of vegetables,--cabbages, potatoes, onions.
In one corner a nameless heap of decaying rags, which she called
her bed; in the centre, a small cast-iron stove, the worn-out pipe
of which allowed the smoke to escape in the room.
"'Anyway,' she said to me, 'you have a home now!'
"I helped her to unload the cart. She filled the stove with coal,
and at once declared that she wanted to inspect my things.
"My trunks were opened; and it was with exclamations of surprise
that the woman handled my dresses, my skirts, my stockings.
"'The mischief!' she exclaimed, 'you dressed well, didn't you?'
"Her eyes sparkled so, that a strong feeling of mistrust arose in
my mind. She seemed to consider all my property as an unexpected
godsend to herself. Her hands trembled as she handled some piece
of jewelry; and she took me to the light that she might better
estimate the value of my ear-rings.
"And so, when she asked me if I had any money, determined to hide
at least my twenty-franc-piece, which was my sole fortune, I replied
"'That's a pity,' she grumbled.
"But she wished to know my history, and I was compelled to tell it
to her. One thing only surprised her,--my age; and in fact, though
only thirteen, I looked fully sixteen.
"When I had done,
"'Never mind!' she said. 'It was lucky for you that you met me.
You are at least certain now of eating every day; for I am going
to take charge of you. I am getting old: you'll help me to drag
my cart. If you are as smart as you are pretty, we'll make money.'
"Nothing could suit me less. But how could I resist? She threw a
few rags upon the floor; and on them I had to sleep. The next day,
wearing my meanest dress, and a pair of wooden shoes which she had
bought for me, and which bruised my feet horribly, I had to harness
myself to the cart by means of a leather strap, which cut my
shoulders and my chest. She was an abominable creature, that woman;
and I soon found out that her repulsive features indicated but too
well her ignoble instincts. After leading a life of vice and shame,
she had, with the approach of old age, fallen into the most abject
poverty, and had adopted the trade of vegetable-vender, which she
carried on just enough to escape absolute starvation. Enraged at
her fate, she found a detestable pleasure in ill-treating me, or
in endeavoring to stain my imagination by the foulest speeches.
"Ah, if I had only known where to fly, and where to take refuge!
But, abusing my ignorance, that execrable woman had persuaded me,
that, if I attempted to go out alone, I would be arrested. And I
knew no one to whom I could apply for protection and advice. And
then I began to learn that beauty, to a poor girl, is a fatal gift.
One by one, the woman had sold every thing I had,--dresses,
underclothes, jewels; and I was now reduced to rags almost as mean
as when I was with the laundress.
"Every morning, rain or shine, hot or cold, we started, wheeling
our cart from village to village, all along the Seine, from
Courbevoie to Pont-Marly. I could see no end to this wretched
existence, when one evening the commissary of police presented
himself at our hovel, and ordered us to follow him.
"We were taken to prison; and there I found myself thrown among
some hundred women, whose faces, words, and gestures frightened
me. The vegetable-woman had committed a theft; and I was accused
of complicity. Fortunately I was easily able to demonstrate my
innocence; and, at the end of two weeks, a jailer opened the door
to me, saying, 'Go: you are free!'"
Maxence understood now the gently ironical smile with which Mlle.
Lucienne had heard him assert that he, too, had been very unhappy.
What a life hers had been! And how could such things be within a
step of Paris, in the midst of a society which deems its organization
too perfect to consent to modify it!
Mlle. Lucienne went on, speaking somewhat faster,
"I was indeed free; but of what use could my freedom be to me? I
knew not which way to go. A mechanical instinct took me back to
Rueil. I fancied I would be safer among people who all knew me,
and that I might find shelter in our old lodgings. But this
last hope was disappointed. Immediately after our arrest, the
owner of the building had thrown out every thing it contained, and
had rented it to a hideous beggar, who offered me, with a giggle,
to become his housekeeper. I ran off as fast as I could.
"The situation was certainly more horrible now than the day when
I had been turned out of my benefactress' house. But the eight
months I had just spent with the horrible woman had taught me anew
how to bear misery, and had nerved up my energy.
"I took out from a fold of my dress, where I had kept it constantly
hid, the twenty-franc-piece I had received; and, as I was hungry,
I entered a sort of eating and lodging house, where I had
occasionally taken a meal. The proprietor was a kind-hearted man.
When I had told him my situation, he invited me to remain with
him until I could find something better. On Sundays and Mondays
the customers were plenty; and he was obliged to take an extra
servant. He offered me that work to do, promising, in exchange,
my lodging and one meal a day. I accepted. The next day being
Sunday, I commenced the arduous duties of a bar-maid in a low
drinking house. My _pourboires_ amounted sometimes to five or ten
francs; I had my board and lodging free; and at the end of three
months I had been able to provide myself with some decent clothing,
and was commencing to accumulate a little reserve, when the
lodging-house keeper, whose business had unexpectedly developed
itself to a considerable extent, concluded to engage a man-waiter,
and urged me to look elsewhere for work. I did so. An old neighbor
of ours told me of a situation at Bougival, where she said I would
be very comfortable. Overcoming my repugnance, I applied, and was
accepted. I was to get thirty francs a month.
"The place might have been a good one. There were only three in
the family,--the gentleman and his wife, and a son of twenty-five.
Every morning, father and son left for Paris by the first train,
and only came home to dinner at about six o'clock. I was therefore
alone all day with the woman. Unfortunately, she was a cross and
disagreeable person, who, never having had a servant before, felt
an insatiable desire of showing and exercising her authority. She
was, moreover, extremely suspicious, and found some pretext to visit
regularly my trunks once or twice a week, to see if I had not
concealed some of her napkins or silver spoons. Having told her
that I had once been a laundress, she made me wash and iron all the
clothes in the house, and was forever accusing me of using too much
soap and too much coal. Still I liked the place well enough; and I
had a little room in the attic; which I thought charming, and where
I spent delightful evenings reading or sewing.
"But luck was against me. The young gentleman of the house took a
fancy to me, and determined to make me his mistress. I discouraged
him in a way; but he persisted in his loathsome attention, until one
night he broke into my room, and I was compelled to shout for help
with all my might, before I could get rid of him.
"The next day I left that house; but I tried in vain to find another
situation in Bougival. I resolved then to seek a place in Paris.
I had a big trunk full of good clothes, and about a hundred francs
of savings; and I felt no anxiety.
"When I arrived in Paris, I went straight to an intelligence-office.
I was extremely well received by a very affable old woman who
promised to get me a good place, and, in the mean time, solicited
me to board with her. She kept a sort of boarding-house for servants
out of place; and there were there some fifty or sixty of us, who
slept at night in long dormitories.
"Time went by, and still I did not find that famous place. The
board was expensive, too, for my scanty means; and I determined to
leave. I started in quest of new lodgings, followed by a porter,
carrying my trunk; but as I was crossing the Boulevard, not getting
quick enough out of the way of a handsome private carriage which
was coming at full trot, I was knocked down, and trampled under the
Without allowing Maxence to interrupt her,
"I had lost consciousness," went on Mlle. Lucienne. "When I came
to my senses, I was sitting in a drugstore; and three or four
persons were busy around me. I had no fracture, but only some
severe contusions, and a deep cut on the head.
"The physician who had attended me requested me to try and walk; but
I could not even stand on my feet. Then he asked me where I lived,
that I might be taken there; and I was compelled to own that I was a
poor servant out of place, without a home or a friend to care for me.
"'In that case,' said the doctor to the druggist, 'we must send her
to the hospital.'
"And they sent for a cab.
"In the mean time, quite a crowd had gathered outside, and the
conduct of the person who was in the carriage that had run over me
was being indignantly criticised. It was a woman; and I had caught
a glimpse of her at the very moment I was falling under the horses'
feet. She had not even condescended to get out of her carriage;
but, calling a policeman, she had given him her name and address,
adding, loud enough to be heard by the crowd, 'I am in too great a
hurry to stop. My coachman is an awkward fellow, whom I shall
dismiss as soon as I get home. I am ready to pay any thing that
may be asked.'
"She had also sent one of her cards for me. A policeman handed it
to me; and I read the name, Baronne de Thaller.
"'That's lucky for you,' said the doctor. 'That lady is the wife of
a very rich banker; and she will be able to help you when you get
"The cab had now come. I was carried into it; and, an hour later,
I was admitted at the hospital, and laid on a clean, comfortable bed.
"But my trunk!--my trunk, which contained all my things, all I had
in the world, and, worse still, all the money I had left. I asked
for it, my heart filled with anxiety. No one had either seen or
heard of it. Had the porter missed me in the crowd? or had he
basely availed himself of the accident to rob me? This was hard to
"The good sisters promised that they would have it looked after,
and that the police would certainly be able to find that man whom
I had engaged near the intelligence-office. But all these
assurances failed to console me. This blow was the finishing one.
I was taken with fever; and for more than two weeks my life was
despaired of. I was saved at last: but my convalescence was long
and tedious; and for over two months I lingered with alternations
of better and of worse.
"Yet such had been my misery for the past two years, that this
gloomy stay in a hospital was for me like an oasis in the desert.
The good sisters were very kind to me; and, when I was able, I
helped them with their lighter work, or went to the chapel with
them. I shuddered at the thought that I must leave them as soon
as I was entirely well; and then what would become of me? For my
trunk had not been found, and I was destitute of all.
"And yet I had, at the hospital, more than one subject for gloomy
reflections. Twice a week, on Thursdays and Sundays, visitors were
admitted; and there was not on those days a single patient who did
not receive a relative or a friend. But I, no one, nothing, never!
"But I am mistaken. I was commencing to get well, when one Sunday
I saw by my bedside an old man, dressed all in black, of alarming
appearance, wearing blue spectacles, and holding under his arm an
enormous portfolio, crammed full of papers.
"'You are Mlle. Lucienne, I believe,' he asked.
"'Yes,' I replied, quite surprised.
"'You are the person who was knocked down by a carriage on the corner
of the Boulevard and the Faubourg St. Martin?'
"'Do you know whose equipage that was?'
"'The Baronne de Thaller's, I was told.'
"He seemed a little surprised, but at once,
"'Have you seen that lady, or caused her to be seen in your behalf?'
"'Have you heard from her in any manner?'
"A smile came back upon his lips.
"'Luckily for you I am here,' he said. 'Several times already I have
called; but you were too unwell to hear me. Now that you are better,
"And thereupon, taking a chair, he commenced to explain his
profession to me.
"He was a sort of broker; and accidents were his specialty. As
soon as one took place, he was notified by some friends of his at
police headquarters. At once he started in quest of the victim,
overtook her at home or at the hospital, and offered his services.
For a moderate commission he undertook, if needs be, to recover
damages. He commenced suit when necessary; and, if he thought the
case tolerably safe, he made advances. He stated, for instance,
that my case was a plain one, and that he would undertake to obtain
four or five thousand francs, at least, from Mme. de Thaller. All
he wanted was my power of attorney. But, in spite of his pressing
instances, I declined his offers; and he withdrew, very much
displeased, assuring me that I would soon repent.
"Upon second thought, indeed, I regretted to have followed the first
inspiration of my pride, and the more so, that the good sisters whom
I consulted on the subject told me that I was wrong, and that my
reclamation would be perfectly proper. At their suggestion, I then
adopted another line of conduct, which, they thought, would as surely
bring about the same result.
"As briefly as possible, I wrote out the history of my life from
the day I had been left with the gardeners at Louveciennes. I added
to it a faithful account of my present situation; and I addressed
the whole to Mme. de Thaller.
"'You'll see if she don't come before a day or two,' said the sisters.
"They were mistaken. Mme. de Thaller came neither the next nor the
following days; and I was still awaiting her answer, when, one
Back to Full Books